THE GREEN OFFICE PROJECT
Because the Cedar Tree Foundation supports and promotes environmental protection and health, we strive to implement best possible environmental practices in our work place. While we continually look for new ideas and areas of improvement, here is what we’ve done so far:
In April of 2007, Cedar Tree moved into a newly rented office space in a 19th century office building located in downtown Boston. We worked to incorporate environmental improvements during the renovation of the space prior to taking occupancy.
Commercial carpet can be a significant environmental health hazard. Carpet backing, which holds the fibers together, and the adhesive used to stick carpet to the floor, have both been linked to sources of indoor air pollution. New carpets emit hazardous chemicals into the air (a process referred to as off-gassing), which can cause health issues ranging from headaches to more serious neurological problems. Cedar Tree’s office carpet is certified green with the commercial carpet industry's first fully sustainable, cradle to cradle carpet backing. The carpet contains 25% recycled materials and, upon removal, will be accepted back through the company’s recycling program. The adhesive is non-toxic and low-emissions certified.
Paint, which often contains a high level of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), is also a source of harmful air pollution. VOCs are linked to upper respiratory irritation, headaches, and nausea. With this in mind, we chose to use Eco-spec, an eco-friendly, non-toxic, latex-based paint with lower levels of VOCs than traditional brands.
We asked the building management to try to limit the use of vinyl in our new office. The production and disposal of vinyl is a high-polluting health hazard. Instead of vinyl baseboards and kitchen flooring, we requested rubber base-boards and kitchen linoleum (a more sustainable, environmental flooring alternative).
Each individual office has its own pump for heating and cooling. This allows us to better control our energy use, saving energy on more temperate days and turning cooling/heating off when staff members are out of town. In addition, offices are fitted with detector light switches that also give staff the option of turning on half the overhead lights on brighter days.
The addition of a kitchen to our office space allows employees to bring and/or cook lunch in the office, using silverware and dishes that can be washed and reused. This reduces our dependence on highly processed lunch items, carry out containers, and disposable utensils and plates. As an alternative to Styrofoam or paper cups, staff members and guests are provided with ceramic mugs to cut down on waste.
The staff also participates in Project Oscar, Boston’s 24-hour community compost program. Food scraps are collected in the office and are deposited in the City Hall Plaza compost bin--one of six throughout the city.
Plastics and Aluminum
The building’s management company facilitates the recycling of bottles and cans on a daily basis.
In lieu of individual cans of seltzer, reusable bottles and a carbonator are made available to the staff for daily use.
Due to the results of staff research that indicates bottled water may be no healthier than tap water, and may actually be even more contaminated (unless marked as distilled), we have discontinued our practice of purchasing bottled water. Any negative health impact on the employees is assumed to be nonexistent and we are no longer demanding (through our purchase practice) the creation and transport of plastic bottles.
In 2018, the staff purchased an at-home water testing kit through Healthy Babies, Bright Futures, an alliance of nonprofit organizations, scientists, and donors working to design and implement programs that reduce babies’ exposures to toxic chemicals in the first 1,000 days of development. Results of the kit showed a lead concentration level of 3.6 ppb in water collected from the office tap, which poses moderate health risks. To remedy this, staff purchased an Aquagear water pitcher that filters out fluoride, lead, and chloramine. Each filter yields 150 gallons of water before being accepted back by the company through its recycling program.
Beyond standard recycling services offered by Cedar Tree’s office building, the Foundation’s staff utilizes programs through TerraCycle, which offers free recycling programs funded by brands, manufacturers, and retailers that facilitate the collection of hard-to-recycle waste. The staff has opted into several programs, collecting everything from contacts packaging to toothpaste tubes, in the interest of keeping these materials out of landfills.
We purchased the main reception unit from Teknion, a company that uses recycled raw materials in its production. The reception unit was constructed of 53% recycled material and is green guard certified for low amounts of formaldehyde, TVOC, aldehydes and 4-phrnlcyclohexene. We are continuing to explore product options with this company or one with similar environmental/sustainable policies for future furniture purchases.
The production of recycled paper uses less energy and contributes less water and air pollution than the process of using fresh lumber to produce paper. In addition, the practice of continually harvesting trees leads to nutrient erosion in the soil, which is often offset by the use of chemical fertilizers. Paper purchased for Cedar Tree office use (including office stationary) is 100% post consumer waste recycled. Staff members at the Cedar Tree Foundation are conservative with in-house printing, often taking advantage of a designated printer stocked with scrap paper or print double sided whenever possible. All empty ink and toner cartridges are returned to the manufacturer for recycling. In addition, Cedar Tree disposes of all paper waste through the building’s recycling program. To reduce printing overall, Cedar Tree staff uses an intranet server that allows employees to access documents via the network without having to print separate copies of shared documents. This also increases access for staff to work remotely to reduce travel impact.
Outsourced printing is completed by Red Sun Press, a printing and design union shop that shares Cedar Tree’s strong commitment to the environment. Red Sun uses a variety of recycled papers with high post-consumer waste content and vegetable based inks in place of traditional oil based options. In 2000, Red Sun received the Commonwealth of Massachusetts “Buy Recycled and Environmentally Preferred Products” Business Award for their pioneering role in recycled paper printing.
Binders and Folders
Standard 3 rings binders used in an office setting are usually vinyl, a plastic material that contains harmful phthalates. Cedar Tree has chosen to replace these non-biodegradable products with Guided's recycled binders. This product contains a minimum of 35% post-consumer recycled material and is 100% recyclable. These binders are assembled with a reusable screw and rings making it easy to replace old covers. In addition to using this Guided product, Cedar Tree stocks their recycled pocket folders and dividers. File folders are produced from 100% Post-Consumer content.
Traditional household/office cleaning products often contain chemicals that have been linked to a range of conditions including cancer, asthma, allergies, hormone disruption, and reproductive and developmental disorders. At Cedar Tree, we only purchase non-toxic cleaning products for office use.
Grants In 2011, Cedar Tree transitioned to a fully online grant application and reporting platform, drastically reducing the Foundations use of paper.
Transportation and Commuting
To encourage the use of public transportation, we have a commuter program available to staff that allows them to put money aside on a pretax basis for commuting expenses. This program also provides extra convenience by delivering monthly train/bus passes to employees’ home addresses.
The Foundation’s primary banking relationship is with a Boston based community bank which has a stated commitment to a community strategy with environmental protection as one of the goals. For example, in 2013 Eastern Bank provided $42 million of financing for the creation of four solar farms. They also have more LEED certified branches than any other Bank in Massachusetts.
Mission Related Investing Cedar Tree views investments as an integrated component of our mission and believe adding social value to the management of the investment portfolio and reducing the dissonance between the philanthropic mission of the Foundation and the management of its assets serves as both a return enhancement and risk mitigation strategy. Cedar Tree’s Board targets at least 75% of the Foundation’s portfolio to be managed in accordance with mission. RBC's Socially Responsible Investing Wealth Management Group serves as the Foundation’s investment consultant. The RBC team has the capability to completely customize the foundation's investment portfolio in accordance with its MRI policy and approach doing so with the philosophy that they will provide competitive market returns.
To offset the Foundation’s carbon footprint, we review staff commute, work travel, annual meetings, purchasing habits, and office utilities to calculate the Foundation’s entire carbon output. Offsets are purchased through Native Energy and are used to support a different environmental project each year. Cedar Tree’s carbon offset purchases have supported projects such as the construction of a wind turbine at the Capricorn Ridge Wind Energy Center in Texas and the Big Smile Wind Farm at Dempsey Ridge in Oklahoma. This last project partners with ACCIONA, a global leader in providing sustainable solutions for infrastructure and renewable energy, and is located on over 7,500 acres of agricultural and grazing land.
The Wind Farm, which was built in 2012 following the completion of an environmental impact assessment and subsequent public forum with the community, will deliver enough clean energy to power more than 46,000 U.S. homes. The project avoids more than 339,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year, which is the equivalent of taking 71,500 cars off the road.
For the Future
The Cedar Tree Foundation will continue to enact and incorporate the values and philosophy that shape our grantmaking into all our activities. We continually test new ideas to reduce our environmental footprint; and we are encouraged by the fact that the changes detailed above have improved the quality of office life while, for the most part, costing the same or less than conventional choices.